Friday, March 29, 2013

Kids Need To Know That They Matter.

So, Patrick (my kids' big brother) is visiting for spring break.  So far, it's been a really nice visit.  I've been shocked by how well he blends into our wacky, little family. He posed for Easter Bunny pictures.  He already picked his DragonCon costumes because, evidently, he intends to go. :)  And, he even suggested that we all wear white suits to match the one that he brought for church on Easter Sunday.  I'm going to say that, again.  He's willing to let me match everyone's clothes.  Yeah, that's really cool because I really like doing that. ;)

And, perhaps. the most shocking moment for me was yesterday morning when I learned this.

He's never seen Blue's Clues!   Patrick has never seen Blue's Clues.   It's one of the most popular kids' shows ever (probably) and he didn't recognize Steve when he saw a picture of him on my fridge. (Nevermind, why I have a picture of him on my fridge...)

At first, it seems like a little thing, especially compared to the bigger things that he missed out on.  But then again, it's not.  What it means is that while other kids his age were sitting with their parents, watching the show and helping Steve find the clues; he was sitting in filth (by all accounts) and wondering when his next meal would be.  He wasn't being told that he was so smart and could do anything that he wants to be.  He was being ignored and disregarded.

It's not ok. It's just not.

This week, many questions have floated through my head.

What's it like to grow up in and out of foster care?  What was it like to sit with us at Wendy's and see the signs everywhere, all about kids needing forever families?  Do his friends at school know that he's in foster care?  Does he think about his reality or does he shove the thoughts to the back of his mind?

And, what's it like when you are reminded that you are different?

We were leaving the mall.  I was teasing the kids and saying that they had to go to school the next day.  They said that was impossible because Patrick was here and I said that he was just missing school.

Then Lizzie made a inexplicable connection and said "Patrick doesn't have a mom."

Thud, I didn't know what to say.  So, I tried to shush her and hoped that he had the music loud in his brand new headphones.

Then, Antwan added. "He doesn't have a regular mom, I think."

(This is stemming from our attempts to explain foster care to Antwan and Lizzie.)

So, before it got more awkward, I stopped them and said "Ok, Patrick has a foster mother.  She takes care of him, gives him love, and keeps him safe."

Hoping that clarified it, I turned back around so I could pull out of the parking space.

Lizzie added, happily "And, now we take care of him!"

I couldn't argue with that.  I agreed that we were taking care of him and looked at Patrick for reaction.  There wasn't one.

I asked him, "Are you hearing this?"

He simply said "yes."

And, that was it.  We were off to our next activity.

Life hasn't been fair to him.  Just like, it hasn't been fair to so many other kids.  It's just plain unfair.  It hurts my heart to know how many kids are out there right now, just wishing that someone loved them.  I'm so glad that my kids know that they are loved and that they are, in fact, my kids.  I wish that I could help them all.  But, at least, I can help Patrick now.
So, tonight, whether he likes it or not, I'm going to find an episode of Blue's Clues on Netflix and we are going to watch it.  He is going to make fun of it because, well, he's 13.  And, when it's over, I'm going to tell him that he's smart and can do anything that he wants to do.  I'm going to tell him what someone should've told him, years ago.

Then I'm going to give him a good night hug like I do every night and he's going to pretend that he doesn't love it.   And, then I'm going to sit in my recliner and continue to wonder how we got here; all the while, feeling very grateful that we did.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Teaching My Little Girl To Love Her Skin.

Lizzie is the only black child in her class.  She is one of two in the whole preschool.  Yeah, we clearly don’t live in the most diverse area.  I have struggled with whether we should relocate to a different part of town.  We have talked about it, but in the end it always comes down to a few things.  We have family close by, it’s really pretty, and the schools.  The schools are really, really good here.  Families move here just so they can send their kids to the schools and I know teachers from the other counties who want to defect to our county.  They’re good schools.  And, since William started out a little behind, being in a school that was able to give him extra help was a blessing. 

So, no, I don’t want to move to another area of town so that my kids will not be the minority, but will go to less productive schools.  I don’t know if that’s the right decision.  I don’t know if anything I do is right.  But, I do know that, lately, my kids (especially Lizzie and Antwan) are noticing more and more that they are different.  And, I'm not sure how to make that easier for them.

So, it seems like lately, my interesting moments have been happening before 9am.  That’s weird because I firmly believe that no one should be awake before 9am.  But, sadly, society does not agree. ;)

I was doing Lizzie’s hair and trying desperately not to pop another rubber band.  (I did.)

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but she said something about her brown skin and I said how pretty it is.  “Nuh-Uh” she disagreed.  All my little mom warning bells went off and I just desperately wanted to reassure her. 

“Lizzie, I think it’s really pretty.  It’s dark like Antwan and William’s.”

“No, they’re skin is black.  Mine is brown.”

I tried explaining that they were all black and that their skin were just different shades, but she was having none of it.  And, I was hating the idea that she felt different from the two people that were supposed to make her feel less different.  So, I went with a different angle.
"Your skin is different from the kids at school, isn’t it?”

She said "Yes." 

“Well, that’s kind of neat, right?  Your skin is special.” 

Kind of weak, I know.  But, what do you want from me?  It was 8:45 in the morning.

She answered, simply, “No.”

In an effort to figure out what she was thinking, I asked her,

“Well, why, Lizzie?  Why don’t you like your skin?”

Taking a page from William’s book (you see, he’s random), her answer was “Big triangle!”

She then put her arms in a triangular shape and started rambling about shapes.

We were evidently done.  I finished braiding her hair and hoped that she wasn’t using a defense mechanism and that she had really already forgotten about it. 

I don’t know.

But, I do know that she’s beautiful and Brian and I are going to keep telling her that.  And, we're  going to keep telling her that it's what's inside that counts.  Lucky for her, and for us, she's pretty awesome on the inside, too. :)    

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Telling Your Kids That They're Adopted

Years ago, I was talking to an adoptive mom about her son and she said that she was going to wait until the “right time” to tell her son that he was adopted.  I flash backed to the "Family Ties" episode when Skippy found out that he had been adopted and his whole world fell apart. And, I wondered if my friend was making the right decision to not let her son go ahead and grow up knowing.  But, of course, either way, it was her decision.

So, years later, there we were.  We were adoptive parents, too.  Whether to tell our kids was a pretty easy and obvious decision for us, of course.  William was five years old, so I'm thinking that he knew already.  And if we didn't tell Lizzie and Antwan, I'm pretty sure they would've figured it out on their own.  :)       

When we adopted our dog, Rose, from the Humane Society, I corrected the kids when they said we were buying a dog.  I did this, partly, because, I’ve never bought a dog or cat in my life.  All my pets have been rescues.  But, I also did it because I thought it was a cool way to demonstrate another form of adoption.  Once she was officially ours, I made a point of talking about how she’s a member of the family now, too.  And, even though, it might take her time to settle in, we needed to be patient with her because she was one of us now.  

Anyway, the kids get that Rose was adopted, but I guess maybe I haven’t talked to Lizzie about the fact that she was adopted as much as I thought.  Because, yesterday morning, she was talking about Rose and how she was adopted and I said “You know, you were adopted, too.”   Well, Lizzie is so used to me teasing her that she assumed it was a joke.  She giggled and said “No, I’m not!”

When I told her that I wasn’t being silly and that she really was adopted, she just looked at me.  I then launched into an impromptu explanation.  I told her that some people came to us and said that she needed a Mommy and Daddy and asked if we wanted it to be us.   We were so excited and said yes! It was much more light-hearted and less detailed than the real story.  But, my four year old doesn’t need an education on the foster care system.  She only needs to know that she is special and that she and her brothers are our world. 
Then Brian came in the room and I told him what we were talking about.  So, he joined in, borrowing an anecdote that Harpo Marx had used on his own children.  He changed the names, of course. :)  He told her “We went looking for Lizzie.  We didn’t know where she was.  And, when we saw you, we said that’s Lizzie!”

He has used this with the boys, too. :)

I don’t know what Lizzie understood, but I’m pretty sure that she felt wanted.

So, feeling like I had taken advantage of an opportunity, I then took my girl to school and apologized to the teachers for bringing her late.  Sadly, I have to apologize for being late a lot. :)

One day, when the "where do babies come from" question comes, it's probably going to have a bit of a different spin to it.  The miracle of creating life isn't as relevant to me as the miracle of watching a life.  For me, it's not so much a question of where do the babies come from, but how did my babies get to me. :)